Shooting Is Not the Focus


How can I say that when shooting is the most interesting thing for me to think about? Shooting, especially rifle shooting, pretty much is the focus of my extra time, money, and energy. So what the heck am I talking about?

Since the contextual background of my interest in shooting is applied shooting, or shooting as it’s useful in the field, the parameters are different from an approach that places shooting as an end in itself. If shooting is simply a means to an end, and probably not the only tool in the toolbox, how does that change the way it should be approached?


The entirety of the ‘thing’ should be as low profile as is practicable while retaining the capability to get the job done. This includes the primary equipment, ancillary equipment, and the mental processes used to get the bullet on target. These are all related. If the equipment is excessively complex, it will essentially require more “computing power” from your mental processing. If you have too much gear or if it’s heavier than necessary, it’s going to increase your consumption of energy over the long haul. If getting a bullet on target involves solving equations and performing pagan rituals, it might be too complicated. If gear or technique is taking you out of the fight or out of the hunt, it’s minimizing your overall effectiveness.

As an example of this point, I have some nice gear and a nice pack to put it in. Even then, I have to take some extra precautions because a.) I am a master at losing things that are expensive and/or difficult to replace, b.) if I have space, I will fill it up (I over pack), c.) I tend to move in a way that is hard on me and the things I carry, and d.) things get snagged up on stuff. Those things mean that unless I have a plan for each of those issues in relation to my gear I will be distracted and may not end up with all the things that I started with. Being distracted slows things down and takes attention from the task. Not having gear, or finding that it’s damaged compromises performance to a level below expectations.

For me, carrying too much creates a lot of work with little to no benefit. For the things I do carry I have to have a system and stick to it. The point is that the work drives the gear. The gear shouldn’t be adding to the work.


Complexity can be cool, fun, and interesting. Many of us are wired to take pleasure in working out complex problems. We probably have too much free time or are too insulated from the real world, but we have the luxury to do what we want, usually without serious consequences.

In approaching a practical situation out in the world we often find that our lack of control removes the luxuries that make a complicated solution viable. Specifically this relates to how many pieces of gear can one access, or how many variables can one account for under poor conditions, physical exertion, and mental stress. Under these circumstances the nature of our reality can drastically change.

Doing some work at very close range with the AR has been a good experience for me. In particular, the issue of dealing with mechanical offset has been a great illustration of how it’s so easy to over-complicate something when thinking it through conceptually or intellectually. Being a person who values precision, I like the idea a point of aim that is deliberate and as correct as possible for a given range. At least I was smart enough to know not to dial my elevation at 7 yards (that’s saying a lot for me).

When I thought through the problem of point of aim and mechanical offset conceptually, I thought that a reticle-based holdover would provide the best combination of speed and precision. Using the reticle in this manner comparatively fast from the perspective of a bolt action rifle shooter. To be clear about what I mean, I was considering using a different aiming point than the crosshair intersection. For instance, if I was at a distance close enough to require a correction of 13 mils, for example, I was going to place that part of the reticle, or somewhere relatively near that part of the reticle if time was a factor, on the part of the target I wanted to hit.

The other alternative in using a holdover would be to hold the crosshair (or whatever the optic has as an aiming point) a certain distance above the target (Tennessee elevation). I didn’t like this option because of the likelihood of varying size targets and a comparatively imprecise “zone of impact” based on a point of aim that seems to be characterized as “aim ’bout there”.

What I discovered once I actually had a loaded rifle in my hand, a target in front of me, and a timer keeping track was that using the reticle to adjust the hold was extremely slow. The target as close range is also comparatively huge. 4.2” is approximately 60 MOA or 16.6 mils at 7 yards. Those things taken together indicate what I found out in about 10 seconds on the range, to wit, it just makes a lot more sense to figure out where to put the crosshairs in relation to the target instead of using the reticle to hold. For instance, at 7 yards, depending on the height of the scope mount, a might need to hold anywhere from the top edge of my 4.2” target, to just a little above that. Out to 25 yards I need to hold about halfway between the center and top of the target. With enough trigger time at various close ranges, it’s not to hard to develop the ability to guess a point of aim that will get the bullets into the target. I believe that this is a skill that will transfer to targets of different sizes, because it’s not too hard to estimate the mechanical offset at those ranges.

This didn’t only affect my technique at close range. It also indicates to me that a complex reticle for close range work is not only unnecessary, but probably going to create visual noise in the workspace. After getting used to (spoiled with?) the simple single dot illumination in the SR-8c and the Swarovski Z6i, reticles with an abundance of visual “features” seem like too much stuff in the way. For example, the EOTech that I’ve been using for many years now feels like I have a neon sign between me and the target.

Without a purpose to drive our gear and technique it’s easy to fall into the trap of letting what seems cool or novel affect those things in negative ways. Sometimes what sounds good in theory just doesn’t work out that way. The test should be in the field.


17 thoughts on “Shooting Is Not the Focus

  1. Yes ,Yes and Yes Everything you jettison belongs to Murphy let it get in his way and the field is always the final judge KIS with one S because you are not stupid

  2. Once again, a very wise post weed-hopper.

    Complicated reticles don’t exactly help in the snap-shot. Tennessee elevation can be instantly intuitive – with enough practice. Point-blank zero can reduce or eliminate the need for even that.

    This is why we use a target-height-based point-blank zero for field use versus ‘perfect’ zeros for every conceivable distance. Also partly why Cooper developed his Scout Rifle concept – light, slick, fast, and very user-friendly, no bells or whistles. A Scout with a Ching (ahem, or a RS1!) and a pair of binocs is all the ‘shooting/hunting gear’ you need….IF you have a well-educated mind and a well-trained body. Fancy that.

    Simple = fast + smaller potential for mistakes/loss/breakage.

    And yes, the field is where rubber meets the road. That is why I advocate going hunting. The square range has its very important uses, but can also allow the development of bad field habits.

    +1 Rawhider.

    • Cheering and applause in the background for the article and comments. Simple and useful in relation to normal usage. And yes, Pete, a Scout with an RS-1 is a very pleasurable and useful tool.

    • There’s still something to those ‘old’ concepts. I realize there are exceptions for certain ‘missions’ that require certain things to provide a probability for success, but most of us, myself included, tend to over accessorize. What has been bugging me lately is this trend towards elevation turrets (and capped turrets) the size of beer cans, especially on optics intended for close quarters. I humbly submit that the more of my environment that I can be in tune with visually, the better off I am. Nothing should interfere with that simply for the sake of being trendy. Looking at the Leupold on my Sako 75 and seeing how slim and minimalistic it is makes me wonder of maybe those folks were on to something…

      • Time in the field is the great teacher, whether hunting field, or battlefield (preferably the former!).

      • I suppose that if the term ‘old concepts’ is taken to mean that we categorize our rifles based particular objectives then we necessarily have to equip them differently for the intended purposes. I expect my ‘utility’ rifles to be good for rapid engagement and hits out to 400 or 500 yards. I have one rifle that is more or less set up as a DMR, and can reliably make hits out to 700 without a lot of trouble. Neither of these categories is the equivalent of a precision rifle which would be useful for more precise hits at all distances, and especially out to the limits of the particular cartridge. There is a lot of shaded areas between my more or less arbitrary categories but, for instance, the DMR is not really as useful within 300 yards as the Scout is. And the Scout is reaching the limits of it’s abilities at about 400. So, it seems that we are all stuck with the dilemma of how to equip our rifles for relatively defined purposes without creating an albatross of one kind or another.

        • I agree. What I meant by old concepts were things like duplex reticles and capped turrets. Not trendy, but practical for their intended use- setting a point blank zero and being able to maintain it in field conditions. Don’t get me wrong, I think it can be useful to have a measuring device built into the reticle, but there is such a thing as too much. I think it becomes too much when the features get in the way of the purpose.

          • Yup. I think the inverse (or caricature) of this would be to slap a high variable range optic with a more complicated reticle on my 336 Marlin. It just doesn’t seem reasonably compatible with the capabilities of the rifle.

          • A simple duplex reticle does have a measuring device built into the reticle…one simply has to be aware of how to put it to use. Not as fast or precise as the fancier things but still there and workable.

  3. Hey RS, thank you so much for all of your amazing content. Ever since I discovered this blog a few weeks ago I’ve been devouring your posts and check at least once a day. You spoiled us last week, which I greatly appreciated.

    Since I’m on my phone and can’t seem to find another contact method, I was wondering what your status on slings was atm. I just finished up a Mosin Scout build and was wanting to grace it with an RS2. Let me know and thanks again for the great content.

    • I’m relatively close. I think July is a reasonable expectation given my current status and level of activity.

      Thanks for all the kind words in reference to the blog. I do my best.

      • No problem. You deserve it.

        And put me on the short list for a RS2 in multicam or Atac FG whenever you’re able to get production up and running 😉

  4. I just recently found some notes I took while talking to John Pepper,John was considered a master by Cooper and Cooper had tried for some time to get Mr. Pepper to write a book ,but John said he didn’t have time, he and his wife were very active on 2nd amendment issues plus John put on 49 shoots a year rarely if ever the same course of fire and that known only by him ,the walking man targets were 300 and 600 yards and 20 yards to 600 and all in-between,in all kinds of weather and light. Pepper ‘s advice to me was whether right or left handed get an old model 70 win and top it with a fixed 8x good glass and zero it for 300 yards,and learn it and it will serve you over the broadest range of conditions to 600 yards ,now a shooter with an AR had the most hits on the 300 walker target with a hit every 1.5 sec ,but the one where a silhouette flashed across the road 40 yards way was dominated by a bolt gun shooter who could hit it twice. Pepper did not have time for shooters or guns that couldn’t get dirty and he always held a meeting after the shoot for critique and sharing by shooters to help each other do better. Just a little grist for the mill

    • Interesting post Rawhider, thank you. Pepper does/did have (is he still kicking?) a sound rep.

      His rifle advice is pretty good too, if one can afford a pre-64 M70 (I hear the newer ones are a pretty good imitation..if you can afford those!).

      I run a Mauser 98 (Polish F.B. Radom 1930) .270 with a 2.5×8 Leupold “Gold Medallion” (their top-line scope of the ’70’s pre-dating the Vari-X III line) and a Ching. The combo serves me well, earned an e-ticket with it when I took Cooper’s General Rifle class at Raton in ’99.
      Never shot it on paper past 425 (my range’s current max), but with the power set at 7.5x and shooting my 130 load zeroed 1 minute high at 200 yds, the thick/thin transition point of the lower reticle wire is dead on at 400. At 7x it’s dead on at 425. Fancy that. Have yet to work that out for other distances/loads, but then I only get to the rifle range once or twice a year anymore. @#$&%^#!

      “Standard” equipment has a very high performance potential, if the shooter does the work to find out about it, and fullfill it.

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